In today’s ever-changing, technologically advanced society, there are more options than ever available for adult learners. Adult learners are no longer confined by their geographic locations and work schedules, but rather are now free to choose a degree from any one of several thousand institutions of higher learning.
But just because there are many distance-learning programs to choose from doesn’t mean they are all right for you.
How do you know if distance learning is the best option for you? How do you know if you will learn better in a face-to-face environment or online? Here are some questions to help you decide.
Do you work well alone? Yes No
Will you feel motivated without regular personal contact with your instructor? Yes No
Will you complete assignments regularly without reminders? Yes No
Do you have 10 to 15 hours a week to devote to schoolwork? Yes No
Can you learn by reading alone instead of listening to a lecturer? Yes No
Do you have regular access to a computer and the Internet? Yes No
Are you comfortable using word processing and spreadsheet software? Yes No
Are you self-disciplined? Yes No
Do you communicate well in writing? Yes No
Do you adapt easily to new learning environments? Yes No
Do you tend to work ahead of schedule? Yes No
Do you have extensive work and/or family commitments? Yes No
If you answered mostly NO
If you need constant contact with your instructor and peers, if you enjoy working as part of a group, if you communicate better verbally than in written form, or if you don’t have solid time-management skills, than you would probably do better in a traditional, on-campus environment.
If you answered mostly YES
If your work or personal life does not allow you the ability to attend classes at preset times each week, or if you work better individually, if you are comfortable with technology and enjoy changing learning environments, then distance learning may be the answer. Distance learning students are generally very organized self-starters who work well independently with limited reminders on assignments.
If you think that distance learning might work for you but are nervous about making a commitment, look for an institution that offers blended or hybrid courses. These courses incorporate aspects of both the on-campus and online environments. Individual setups vary; as a general rule of thumb, however, these courses will meet half as frequently as traditional on-campus courses and allow you the ability to submit your work and communicate via the Internet.
In summary, it is important have a good understanding of your learning style before you enroll in your first class. If you are unsure of how well you will do in the online environment or if your schedule will not allow you to attend a traditional course every term, try to find an institution that offers both. This will allow you the flexibility you need to be successful in reaching your educational goals.
Christine Javery is the manager of Student Services and Academic Advising with Distance Education at Southern New Hampshire University.
WHILE YOU'RE ONLINE
Check out these Web resources for adult learners.
The Next Step Magazine Web site offers information about colleges that cater to adult learners. Also use the college/university search tool to find a school in your area with your intended major and a free scholarship search. www.nextSTEPmag.com/AdultLearner
About.com offers lots of great information about where to get your degree and links to articles about how adults learn. http://adulted.about.com
The American Association for Adult and Continuing Education publishes Adult Learning and Adult Education Quarterly. Visit for links and conference information.
The Association for Nontraditional Students in Higher Education (ANTSHE) offers ideas for nontraditional student programs, such as “bring your spouse to school” day. Also check out information about the annual ANTSHE conference. www.antshe.org
National Institute of Adult Education is a nongovernmental organization dedicated to adult learners. Although based in the UK, the Institute offers books you can purchase on adult education.
Office of Vocational and Adult Education is the official United States Government educational Web site.
New Horizons in Adult Education is a scholarly electronic journal about adult education. www.nova.edu/~aed/newhorizons.html
The Adult Student Learning Center contains resources, articles and a bulletin board to leave messages for other students. www.adultstudentcenter.com
Education Planet offers 8,232 links to adult education resources and the many services available. www.educationplanet.com/search/Education/K-12/Adult_Education
ACE, the American Council on Education, recommends college credit for professional training. Read about the Adult Learner of the Year Award and request a credit review online. www.acenet.edu
—Compiled by Sarah Pearlman